Two years ago, Helio Castroneves passed Alex Palou with two laps to go to win the Indianapolis 500 – making him one of just four four-time winners of the race.
A year later, Palou qualified second for the same race and was leading before a penalty forced him to do a restart on lap 77, dropping him to 30th. He rebounded to finish ninth and wound up leading 47 laps, second only to Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR)teammate Scott Dixon.
Now, Palou is starting this Sunday’s 500 from the top spot on the grid, having done so with a record qualifying four-lap average of 234.217 miles per hour in the No. 10 American Legion Honda. And he’s learned lessons in the past two years that he thinks can help him bring home a victory this weekend.
“Knowing that we have a really fast car, honestly, we need to try and control the race as much as possible,” said Palou, who leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points standings. “What I mean by that is to not be out of the race early by trying to play too aggressive. Hopefully we can have a more controlled race, and at the end of the day the all-important lap that you want to lead is the last lap. Hopefully we can make that happen. We know we have the car and team to do so.”
Palou’s car features The American Legion’s “Be the One” message, a suicide-prevention initiative aimed at destigmatizing asking for mental health help. He’s not the only driver carrying American Legion branding this weekend. CGR teammate and defending Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson also will have the Legion’s branding mark on his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda as he starts from the 10th spot.
Palou – who earlier this month won the GMR Grand Prix in the same car, the Legion’s first INDYCAR victory – said leading the field in the No. 10 American Legion Honda will add something to the experience.
“It’s going to be extra special,” Palou said. “Leading the Indy 500 must be really special with a normal sponsor that sells products. But with a sponsor that has so much meaning for the veterans and is intended to save lives, it’s extra special. And hopefully that pushes everybody to cheer for us, and that energy we get hopefully makes us go a little bit faster and better. And at the end of the day, the target is to get that No. 10 American Legion car into victory lane.”
And what will it feel like winning the 500 in the car? “I think it’s really tough to imagine that,” Palou said. “We can think that it’s 100 times better than what we felt at the (GMR) Grand Prix and winning the (500) pole. But it’s hard to imaging the exposure we’re going to get for the ‘Be the One’ initiative after that. That’s the goal, and we’re going to do everything we can to do it.”
It's been quite a month for Palou, one he hopes carries over to Sunday. “It's been two perfect weeks so far,” he said. “And we can continue going because we have the confidence and the willing to do it. Hopefully, if we can continue to do it, it’s going to be our best stretch so far.”
Ericsson comes into the race third in the INDYCAR point standings and won the season opener in St. Petersburg. He turned in the fastest lap during Fast Friday prior to qualifications and likes where his car is right now.
“I think we’ve had a good preparation, a good month so far,” Ericsson said. “The car has been feeling good out there. I think we had a solid qualifying weekend. I’m looking forward to it. I think we’re going to be in the mix. I’m real excited about Sunday.”
Ericsson said while there may be some added pressure being the defending champ, but that doesn’t bother him. “I see it as like a good added pressure, because it means that people are expecting you to be up there. People are expecting you to fight for the win. I see that as something to be happy about. That gives me confidence that there are expectations on the No. 8 car.”
Ericsson raced in Formula One for five years before coming to INDYCAR. He said this weekend is unlike any other in auto racing.
“I think the Indy 500 is something unique in the racing world,” Ericsson said. “The history of the race. The speeds that we’re doing here. The whole build-up over a whole month, it’s just such a unique event. For me, there is not a single race like it in the motorsports world, and I feel like you have to come here and experience it to really understand what it means.”
When asked how it will feel to be introduced on race day as the reigning Indy 500 champ, Ericsson didn’t hold back. “It’s going to be incredible,” he said. “Race day here in Indy is always the best day ever. I can’t wait to go out there for driver introductions and get my name announced and sort of wave to the crowd and look out over the crowd. Because that feeling is always a highlight for me. I can’t wait for it.”
· 10:30 a.m. – Cars to the Grid
· 11:47 a.m. – Driver Introductions
· 12:14 p.m. – Indy 500 Pre-Race Ceremonies
· 12:29 p.m. – “Drivers to Your Cars”
· 12:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
· 12:45 p.m. – 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (200 laps/500 miles), NBC/Peacock
Indy 500 Notes (via INDYCAR)
· The Indianapolis 500 will be the 107th 500-mile INDYCAR SERIES race conducted on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval. Ray Harroun won the inaugural race in 1911. Marcus Ericsson won the race in 2022.
· Nine drivers entered have won the Indianapolis 500. Helio Castroneves has won the race four times (2001, 2002, 2009 and 2021) while Takuma Sato (2017 and 2020) has won twice. Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Alexander Rossi (2016), Will Power (2018), Simon Pagenaud (2019) and Marcus Ericsson (2022) are the other former winners in the field.
· There have been five different winners in the first five NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season. Marcus Ericsson (Streets of St. Petersburg), Josef Newgarden (Texas Motor Speedway), Kyle Kirkwood (Streets of Long Beach), Scott McLaughlin (Barber Motorsports Park) and Alex Palou (IMS road course) have won races in 2023. The record for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
· Four Indianapolis 500 rookie drivers qualified for the race: Agustin Canapino, RC Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.
· Alex Palou won the NTT P1 Award with the fastest four-lap average for a pole winner at 234.217 mph. Twenty-one drivers have won the race from the pole – most recently Simon Pagenaud in 2019.
· Team Penske has 18 wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most of any team. Andretti and Chip Ganassi Racing have won five times while A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Rahal Letterman Racing have won twice. Meyer Shank Racing has one win.
· Alex Palou has a chance to join Will Power and Simon Pagenaud as a winner on both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the famed 2.5-mile oval in the same season. Power accomplished the feat in 2018, while Pagenaud did it in 2019 – both sweeping the Month of May.